DOWNTOWN — Laquan McDonald’s family and their supporters say they still want federal prosecutors to pursue charges against the Chicago police officer who shot the teen — dismissing prosecutors’ claims the family wanted the case to go quiet.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Monday it will not file charges against former officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed 17-year-old McDonald in 2014. In doing so, the agency said McDonald’s family agreed not to pursue charges.
But McDonald’s relatives held a news conference Thursday to refute that, saying the office did not contact them and they still want Van Dyke to face federal charges.
“I’m so angry about this outcome because [nobody contacted] the family, or his mom, to say we [the family] are not seeking federal charges against Jason Van Dyke,” Tracey Hunter, McDonald’s grandmother, said at the news conference at Federal Plaza. “Yes, we are.
“Nobody called my house but the newspapers and the TV people, and that’s how I found out.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
Hunter said she thinks the agency was in talks with a distant relative of McDonald’s, but they did not contact her or other more immediate family members. The family is no longer using that relative as a spokesperson, she said.
Hunter and others there demanded the U.S. Attorney’s Office bring charges against Van Dyke.
Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times, was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery and sentenced to 81 months in prison in 2018. He was released from prison in early February, with his sentence cut short for good behavior.
“Van Dyke murdered a young man that had a lot of life in front of him,” Justin Blake, uncle of Jacob Blake, said at Thursday’s news conference. “We don’t know where our next Malcolm X is coming. We don’t know where our next Obama’s gonna come from.
“He could have been that, and it was stolen from him and his family and the city of Chicago.”
Immediately after Van Dyke’s release, McDonald’s family and their supporters called for him to face federal charges. Nine people — activists and members of McDonald’s family — were arrested when they refused to leave the Federal Building during those events.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office refused to see Hunter at that time, supporters said at Thursday’s news conference.
Federal prosecutors said Monday they declined to pursue charges against Van Dyke because they’d face a “very high bar” in securing a conviction — and, even if they were able to do so, whatever sentence there might be could “diminish the important results already achieved.”
“The public should not draw conclusions regarding how the [U.S. Attorney’s Office] Office is likely in the future to analyze incidents of alleged crimes by law enforcement officers,” according to the federal news release earlier this week. “The Department of Justice remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that credible allegations of civil rights violations are thoroughly examined.”
Prosecutors would have to show Van Dyke “willfully deprived Mr. McDonald of a constitutional right,” which would mean they’d need to show Van Dyke deliberately broke the law and his actions were “not the result of mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgment,” according to the news release. Prosecutors would have to show what Van Dyke was thinking when he shot McDonald and that he knew the shooting was an excessive use of force, according to the agency.
And if prosecutors secured a conviction, the judge who imposed a sentence would have to consider the time Van Dyke already spent in prison, how his conduct led to him being released early and how he is not and will never again be a police officer, according to the agency.
“Given these factors, there is a significant prospect that a second prosecution would diminish the important results already achieved,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Van Dyke killed McDonald Oct. 20, 2014, but the shooting initially did not garner widespread attention.
The video showed McDonald — who officers said had been behaving erratically that night and was carrying a knife — walking outside while other police officers and cars were around him. Van Dyke arrived at the scene and, within seconds of getting out of his car, fired 16 shots at the teenager as McDonald appeared to be walking away from him.
Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting.
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